Review – Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide (Dungeons & Dragons)

DnD_SCAG            Released on November 3, 2015, the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide is the most recent entry in for the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game (5E). It has the distinction of being the first non-adventure/campaign product for this edition of D&D since the primary three core books. Tying in to the recently released Sword Coast Legends video game (plus, for nostalgia buffs, many of the locations you’ve visited quite a bit in older games), the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide is a setting book for the Forgotten Realms, focused on the northwestern portion of Faerûn, which includes such well-known locations as Waterdeep, Neverwinter, and Baldur’s Gate. There are also limited some new mechanical options, which are discussed in more detail below.

The Basics

The Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide is a ~160-page, full-color hardcover that retails for about $40. Although it focuses on the Sword Coast, the Adventurer’s Guide also includes a brief survey of Faerûn as a whole, and information on the deities, calendar, races, history, and organizations of the continent. Overall about a third of the book is Sword Coast-specific, and the rest is fairly applicable over the rest of Faerûn. Faerûn is the primary continent in the Forgotten Realms setting (the world is named Toril), by far the most historic and covered of the many Dungeons & Dragons settings (the Forgotten Realms now also serves as the generic D&D setting, supplanting the venerable but less detailed Greyhawk). Like Out of the Abyss, the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide is a co-production of Wizards of the Coast and Green Ronin Publishing (Dragon Age, Mutants& Masterminds, A Song of Fire and Ice).

The graphic design, art style, cartography and other production aspects are consistent with the high level of quality one should expect from Dungeons & Dragons. The editing is good as well.

Contents

Chapter 1: Welcome to the Realms (~35 pages) – This introductory chapter includes a broad overview of Toril, an introduction to the Sword Coast, a brief history of the Realms, timekeeping, how magic works on a cosmological level, religion generally, and a specific listing of gods. The portion on the gods not only includes basic tables of domains (and Domains), but also short write-ups on each deity – this takes up more than half of the chapter.

Chapter 2: The Sword Coast and the North (~55 pages) – This gazetteer chapter covers the cities of the Lords’ Alliance, Dwarfholds, island kingdoms, other independent realms, and (briefly) nearby Underdark sites of interest. The amount of space a particular location gets varies, but these are presented as general guides to the character of a place, not an attempt at providing mechanical information or detailed maps (way too many locations are covered for that). Descriptions are presented from the point of view of various inhabitants of the Realms. About 45 broad locations are covered – notable ones include Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter, Silverymoon, Waterdeep, Mithral Hall, the Moonshaes, Evermeet, Candlekeep, Luskan, and Helm’s Hold. There’s a reason why the Sword Coast is a default sort of adventuring locale, and this area of Faerûn is pretty varied, with large cities of various character, rural and barbaric areas, dark depths, and representation from a broad range of the D&D races (including major human-, dwarven-, elven-ruled areas).

Chapter 3: Races of the Realms (~15 pages) – In general, this chapter presents the Faerûn-specifics of the various sub-races – gold dwaves and shield dwavers, moon elves and sun elves and wood elves and drow, lightfoot and strongheart halflings, dragonborn (new to the Realms since last I visited them), forest and rock gnomes, half-elves, half-orcs, and tieflings. For the most part, these sub-races do not involve anything new mechanically, because the races in the Player’s Handbook already include all of those options – it’s just a question of how the various sub-races are represented in Faerûn. There are several new mechanics, however. The Duergar (grey dwaves) and Svirfneblin (deep gnomes) get their own sub-race write-ups, joining the dark elves from the PHB. There are also several new options for half-elves, who can replace their Skill Versatility trait in favor of something specific to the sub-race of their elven parent (for example, a half-elf of aquatic elf heritage can start with a swim speed), and tieflings, who can swap out their Infernal Legacy trait for one of several options representing a different demonic ancestor.

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Chapter 4: Classes (~20 pages) – Some of the class chapter is about how the different classes are used by various organizations – what mechanical monastic tradition certain orders of monks follow, or what virtues a paladin is expected to uphold. There’s a much higher portion of mechanically new material here, however. The barbarian gets the Path of the Battlerager (dwarves who wear spiked armor and throw themselves at the enemy) and new options for the Path of the Totem Warrior. Clerics get the Arcana Domain. Fighters get the Purple Dragon Knight martial archetype (know more generically as a banneret outside of the eponymous Cormyran organization, the Purple Dragon Knight inspires greatness in his allies). There are two new monastic orders for the monks – the Way of the Long Death (with a death obsession) and the Way of the Sun Soul (energy attacks using positive energy, fire, and light). A paladin can swear the Oath of the Crown (upholding law and civilization). Rogues get two new archetypes – mastermind and swashbuckler. Sorcerers can harness the power of the Storm Sorcery bloodline. Warlocks can serve the Undying patron. Wizards can join the Bladesinging arcane tradition. There are also several new sorcerer/wizard/warlock cantrips, focused around combat, to fit in with several of the martial organizations of the Realms (such as the bladesingers or the War Wizards of Cormyr). In Faerûn, most of these options have specific significance, being tied to certain species, nations, or organizations. However, there is nothing that mechanically precludes them from being deployed outside of those limitations in other settings.

Chapter 5: Backgrounds (~10 pages) – This straightforward chapter presents twelve new background options for players to choose from – city watch, clan crafter, cloistered scholar, courtier, faction agent, far traveler, inheritor, knight of the order, mercenary veteran, urban bounty hunter, Uthgardt tribe member, and Waterdhavian noble.

Opinions

It’s great to see something other than an adventure/campaign supplement for 5E (I like the campaign books, as you can read in my reviews, but man cannot live on bread alone, and I have a hankering for more character-option-filled books of the sort we haven’t seen for 5E yet). This is a setting book first and an option book second, so it’s more of a nice meal than an all-you-can-eat buffet on the ‘crunch’ front, but it’s still tasty.

If you’re new to the Realms, the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide is a great introduction. If you’re an old hand at this, there’s probably no getting around the fact that you already know some of this. But the writing is good and snappy enough to keep it interesting and make the book a good read even for those of us who have a stack of Forgotten Realms setting books sitting on our bookshelves (and that’s no small feat, because it can be pretty easy for an author to get bogged down when writing a gazetteer-style guidebook and end up with something that’s a chore to read instead of a pleasure). And for me, at least, the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide also gave a nice update on recent events of the Realms, and a geographical focus that doesn’t directly overlap with any of the Forgotten Realms setting books I happen to already own.


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